May 23, 2016

Stop! Hammertime! Cycling in Hamilton

While MC Hammer’s “U Can’t Touch This” is one of my favourite hip hop songs, the Hammer I am referring to is the City of Hamilton. This nickname is loosely based on its steelmaking heritage, though a Raise The Hammer article mentioned its origins were in the music and arts circles; only entering the mainstream over the past decade. Just as how Toronto rapper Drake coined “The 6ix” last year as Toronto’s new nickname.

On Sunday, May 22, I biked 80 kilometres from “The 6ix” to the Hammer for some Ride For Heart training. Here are some cycling observations I made along the way.
Hamilton skyline from York Boulevard

Starting in Liberty Village, I used the heavily used Waterfront (a.k.a. Martin Goodman) Trail to its terminus at Norris Crescent. From Norris, cyclists need to use the busy Lake Shore Boulevard until First Street, which should be getting a bi-directional cycle track this summer to improve safety. (link to motion) While I kept going on Lake Shore which has bike lanes from Twenty Second Street to Browns Line (just before Mississauga), the Waterfront Trail from First uses residential streets and some trails through to Mississauga.
Mississauga also does a good job keeping the Waterfront Trail on residential streets, trails, or on in-boulevard paths when it goes along Lakeshore Road. I simply used Lakeshore Road and Southdown Road, which again becomes Lakeshore. While these roads do not have bike lanes, they feel safer than Toronto’s arterials. Oakville, on the other hand, is not very bike friendly with no trail portions, erratic bike lanes (which don’t exist east of downtown), and poor Waterfront Trail wayfinding. In a nutshell, brace yourselves and stick to Lakeshore!
Sharrows in Burlington
Things get interesting in Burlington. They use a unique sharrow marking with dotted lines to alert drivers where they should be when passing cyclists. While more respected than Toronto’s sharrows, the centre turn lane could be removed for bike lanes. Parts of Lakeshore have in-boulevard paths, but they could be marked better. After turning left onto Elizabeth and maneuvering around a construction zone, it’s a clear shot all the way to Hamilton! The pavers used in Downtown Burlington are aesthetically pleasing, while the unpaved portion just before the Burlington Canal Lift Bridge* is manageable on a road bike. Stairs with side rails to push up bicycles are available on both sides of the bridge.
Pavers used on trail in Downtown Burlington
Burlington Skyway from the lift bridge
On the other side of the bridge, the trail goes right along the beach towards Stoney Creek with some waterfront properties on the other side. It is also a good place for bird watching (should have brought my Canon DSLR). To get to Downtown Hamilton, you need to cross Beach Boulevard and turn left once you reach Woodward Avenue. Fortunately, Woodward has some bike lanes which go all the way to Melvin Avenue, though I turned at Lowe’s on Barton Street; an industrial thoroughfare. Not exactly hospitable to cyclists, though the city’s cycling master plan calls for bike lanes on Melvin to link to Cannon Street. Maybe Hamilton should consider getting some wayfinding signs to help guide cyclists to downtown?
Start of Cannon Street bikeway
Tim Hortons Field - Home of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats
After a left on Kenilworth Avenue, I finally reached Cannon Street, which I first found out about at a 2014 Cycle Toronto Skill Swap. From Kenilworth to the Tim Hortons Field – home of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats – painted bike lanes are used with one side placed in the door zone. In spite of this safety hazard, more room is provided to reduce dooring risk. The bike lanes disappear at Melrose Avenue, but then reappear at Sherman Avenue in the form of a bi-directional cycle track.
Cannon cycle tracks - Note the "no left on red" signs & indirect turn bike box
Mini curb segments used on Cannon cycle tracks
The Cannon cycle track is simple, but effective. Not only are there bollards spaced closer together than those on Toronto’s Richmond and Adelaide Streets, there are also mini curb segments closely spaced in some sections to keep motorists out. As Cannon Street is one way westbound, no left on red signs can be found along the street to protect cyclists from left hooks. There are two different types of bike boxes; the larger ones spanning the entire street to provide cyclists a seamless way to turn right (or left if going eastbound) and smaller ones allowing indirect turns. The latter is used at the end of the cycle tracks at Hess, though bike lanes do continue on York Boulevard.
Not a great shot, but Dundrum Castle is behind that tree
The route I took provided a good taste of what the Hammer has to offer. This includes the beaches south of the bridge, Tim Hortons Field, Downtown Hamilton, Dundrum Castle, and Royal Botanical Gardens; though another visit (or two) is needed to explore these sites. Since biking all the way back to Toronto would be overkill (140 – 150 kilometres return), I used Plains Road and Waterdown Road to Aldershot GO Station and take the train to "The 6ix".

Raise the hammer!
Rob Z (e-mail)

*CORRECTION (2016/05/23): Cyclists are not allowed on the Burlington Skyway. Instead, they use the Burlington Canal Lift Bridge. Thanks Roman P for pointing that out.

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